Good White People

The Problem with Middle-Class White Anti-Racism

By Shannon Sullivan

Subjects: Sociology, Cultural Studies, Philosophy, Social Change, Psychology
Series: SUNY series, Philosophy and Race
Paperback : 9781438451688, 224 pages, June 2014
Hardcover : 9781438451695, 224 pages, June 2014

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Table of contents

Introduction: Good White Liberals
1. Dumping on White Trash: Etiquette, Abjection, and Radical Inclusion
2. Demonizing White Ancestors: Unconscious Histories and Racial Responsibilities
3. The Dis-ease of Color Blindness: Racial Absences and Invisibilities in the Reproduction of Whiteness
4. The Dangers of White Guilt, Shame, and Betrayal: Toward White Self-Love
Conclusion: Struggles over Love

Argues for the necessity of a new ethos for middle-class white anti-racism.


Winner of the 2016 Society of Professors of Education Outstanding Book Award presented by the Society of Professors of Education
2014 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

Building on her book Revealing Whiteness, Shannon Sullivan identifies a constellation of attitudes common among well-meaning white liberals that she sums up as "white middle-class goodness," an orientation she critiques for being more concerned with establishing anti-racist bona fides than with confronting systematic racism and privilege. Sullivan untangles the complex relationships between class and race in contemporary white identity and outlines four ways this orientation is expressed, each serving to establish one's lack of racism: the denigration of lower-class white people as responsible for ongoing white racism, the demonization of antebellum slaveholders, an emphasis on colorblindness—especially in the context of white childrearing—and the cultivation of attitudes of white guilt, shame, and betrayal. To move beyond these distancing strategies, Sullivan argues, white people need a new ethos that acknowledges and transforms their whiteness in the pursuit of racial justice rather than seeking a self-righteous distance from it.

Shannon Sullivan is Head of the Philosophy Department and Professor of Philosophy, Women's Studies, and African American Studies at Penn State University. She is the author and editor of many books, including Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance (coedited with Nancy Tuana), also published by SUNY Press.


"...timely … [Sullivan] breathes fresh life into long-standing conversations on color blindness, white guilt and shame, and social class in ways that are engaging and extremely accessible … a welcome addition to the literature." — philoSOPHIA

"Good White People is undoubtedly a major contribution to critical race and feminist theory … Sullivan directly challenges the feelings of paralysis that many white people feel when we think about our complicity in racism, showing us ways forward that call for our agency. It is well worth reading." — Hypatia

"With its highly sophisticated method and edgy straight talk, this provocative little book is required reading for anyone who aspires to destabilize racist systems of undeserved power and privilege … Essential." — CHOICE

"…[Sullivan's] work is so far-reaching and thought-provoking that it is hard to imagine any reader finishing Good White People without having reexamined stale emotions and come to new realizations." — Bookslut

"…Sullivan posits that it is white liberals' own 'anti-racism' that actually perpetuates racism by shutting down frank or nuanced discussions not only of race, but of white privilege, which created racial problems and still sustains them … In advising white liberals how to honestly live their whiteness, rather than disown it or pretend it doesn't exist, Sullivan expertly deconstructs the familiar defenses … Like W.E.B. DuBois and James Baldwin before her, Sullivan sees white domination as a spiritual problem that afflicts one group in particular but that touches us all." — Ms. Magazine